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The 10 scariest post-apocalyptic movies

Brace yourself for doomsday with these 10 visionary classics, filled with tips for surviving the end of the world

Joshua Rothkopf
Written by
Joshua Rothkopf
&
Time Out contributors
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With Mad Max: Fury Road rampaging into theaters, fans of post-apocalyptic movies are in a leather-clad frenzy. Director George Miller all but perfected the genre with Max Max (1979) and The Road Warrior (1981)—his return to these dusty stomping grounds is cause for celebration. Despite their overwhelming cynicism, films about the end of the world have an excellent pedigree: Many transcend their set-ups as action movies or animated fantasies, touching on something essential and cautionary about human nature. Here are the 10 most nightmarish examples. See these post-apocalyptic movies and you’ll have a clear window into several alternate futures, all worth contemplating.

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Snowpiercer (2014)
  • Film
  • Action and adventure
After a new ice age begins, humanity survives on a perpetually cruising luxury rail, teetering around the high-altitude curves of a dead world. Sprung from a 1982 French graphic novel (and bearing its era’s trickle-down tensions), Snowpiercer is a headlong rush into conceptual lunacy.
The Road (2009)
  • Film
  • Fantasy
Fine, so your home is a shopping cart and you haven’t showered in years. If you’ve got Lord of the Rings’ Viggo Mortensen as your fiercely protective dad, you’re going to make it just fine.
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Time of the Wolf (2003)
  • Film

Michael Bay would sneer at Michael Haneke’s post-apocalyptic vision, with nary a catastrophe in sight. But Isabelle Huppert, cutting her way through the unspoiled French countryside with flaming torch and two kids in tow, makes the whole enterprise absorbing—a primitive test of motherhood shorn of alarmist politics or moralizing.

The Road Warrior (1981)
  • Film
  • Fantasy
If there is such a thing as a perfect action movie, expertly paced and acted, cynical yet rousing, George Miller’s post-apocalyptic thrill ride is it. Aggressively kinetic, these vehicular stunts have never been equaled.
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Testament (1983)
  • Film

Watch the little boy from Witness waste away from radiation sickness. Lynne Littman’s harrowing drama is about a suburb trying to keep up appearances after the bombs fall. Stubbornly, the residents cling to the vestiges of civilization, including a school play of “The Pied Piper,” which gets performed during a devastating climax.

Dawn of the Dead (1978)
  • Film
  • Horror
Zombies overrun our cities, and civilization has fallen. Sounds like a perfect time to head to the mall. George A. Romero’s satire of consumerism has no equal.
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“La Jetée” (1962)
  • Film
  • Fantasy

Chris Marker’s 28-minute short manages to tell a tale of nuclear holocaust, sci-fi time travel and heartbreaking romance using only still photographs and narration. The movie’s ideas are so poetic, so utterly radical, it was remade by Terry Gilliam into Twelve Monkeys.

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